canon sense

"every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

The Vicarious Humanity of Jesus and Fear

Most of my life I have been gripped by the fear of man.

The fear of man makes you vulnerable to the opinions of others. It makes you defenseless in the presence of a watching world. It can lead to paralysis for some, or overworking and perfectionism for others.

The remedy is knowing the vicarious humanity of Jesus.  Gregory of Nazianzus defines this in his argument against the ancient Apollinarian heresy when he said, “That which is unassumed is unhealed.” Thus, if there is some aspect of our humanity that is not assumed by the Son in his incarnation, then that part of our nature cannot be healed.

The vicarious humanity of Jesus means that he furnishes the strength and comfort I need when I am most afraid.  From his heavenly session, he does not rule as a distant Lord, but rather, in our human nature by the Spirit, he rules as an apocalyptically invading presence.  Coming to my rescue when I need him.  He knows my frame is but dust.

A practical implication to the vicarious humanity of Jesus is that it teaches us the great spiritual practice of crying out.

“Save me, O Lord.”

Most of us are good at intellectualizing the gospel to the point where we only have a conversation with ourselves, so we don’t cry out.  The repeated mantra, “preach the gospel to yourself” has its limits.  Too often salvation is intellectualized to the point where we become functional semi-pelagians.  So we intellectualize our way through the wilderness of life and Christianity gets reduced to a philosophy or a method.

But salvation according to Scripture is our participating by the Spirit in the Son’s life with the Father.  In this communal-love, we share in Jesus’ cry and learn to cry “Abba, Father.”

When I read the Psalms, there is a lot of crying out from the King of Israel.  When I read the gospels I see men and women crying out to Jesus often.

If you are looking for an evidence of grace in someones life, ask them if they cry out to their divine brother Jesus.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (Ps. 34:4).

Reformed and Catholic

Philip Schaff, writes, “The Reformation is… the greatest act of the Catholic Church.” Thus the Reformation was not a break with church tradition, but with the church’s abuse of tradition.  The Reformers, properly understood, should be seen as having a deep catholic sensibility, who though respectful of the tradition that preceded them, were also willing to subject the tradition to the Scriptures. So in keeping with the spirit of catholicity, the Reformation gave birth to confessions (codified tradition).  These Reformed confessions were unique because they both challenged the tradition of the church while also seeking to maintain continuity with it.  The Reformed confessions have been rightly understood as well thought-out corporate church documents, which testify to their underlying moderating tone (i.e., people came together to agree on them). These confessions were designed to function ministerially (i.e., servant), not magisterially (i.e., master).

Important to remember, is that up till the time of the Reformation, most people perceived the bible to be a fundamentally obscure book.  Because it was not in their language and they were not encouraged to read it, the laity were absolutely dependent on the authoritative interpretation of the church.  The Reformation turned the tide and began to translate and educate the laity so that they might be dependent on God’s word alone.  Thus the Reformation was an echo of Jesus’ response to Satan in the wilderness, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

So why this reflection? Mainly because my own personal journey has led me to believe that being connected and concerned for the church catholic is what Jesus prayed for in John 17. So to be a Reformed Catholic is simply to be Christian in full integrity, confidently laying claim to what is true and good in the whole length and breadth of Christian history.

Ron Mueck

Several years ago I saw the work of Ron Muek at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The Atlantic is currently showcasing some of it right now, which includes pieces I have never seen.  If you ever get to see it in person, it will cast a spell on you, as you enter a world where you encounter giants and get to be a giant.

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Geerhardus Vos on Fellowship with God

To be a Christian is to live one’s life not merely in obedience to God, nor merely in dependence on God, nor even merely for the sake of God; it is to stand in conscious, reciprocal fellowship with God, to be identified with Him in thought and purpose and work, to receive from Him and give back to Him in the ceaseless interplay of spiritual forces…According to this the covenant means that God gives Himself to man and man gives himself to God for that full measure of mutual acquaintance and enjoyment of which each side to the relation is capable.”

The Atlantic Interviews Stanley Hauerwas

Hauerwas, who is professor emeritus of theological ethics at Duke University and the church’s most articulate pacifist was recently asked, What do you think Americans can do, if anything, to change our relationship with war?” 

Hauerwas says,

I know this sounds absurd, but I’d return to the draft. One of the problems we currently have is there hasn’t been in the population any serious engagement with the ethics of war because we have an all-volunteer army. I would think the return to the draft would be an intervention that would require discussion that might be more helpful in terms of our ability to limit war.

The Power of a Short Sentence

The NY Times has a recent piece on “the five-word sentence as the gospel truth” that argues that one should “express your most powerful thought in the shortest sentence.” Clark, the author, ends with a thanksgiving. He writes,

I thank Tom Wolfe for that 1975 lesson on the disproportional power of the short sentence. It stuck. I owe it to him to restore his original context, that writers can use it to give even preposterous statements the ring of truth. The bigot can use it to foment hate. The propagandist can slap it on a bumper sticker. But for the writer with good intent, the short sentence proves a reliable method for delivering the practical truth. With punch.

I think we can all attest to the fact that the best stories, whether written or oral, are those that keep you engaged with little effort.  While a good plot most certainly drives some of that, functionally, it is the method of telling the plot that hooks the reader/listener. Whether we have realized it or not, this is because of the proper use of short sentences. They slow us down, create suspense and keep us wanting to read/listen.

C.S. Lewis on Kindness and Proximity

Kindness and courtesy begin with those closest to you.  It is often easy to overlook offenses from a neighbor but stew over something your spouse says to you.

Mixing Religion and Politics

John Dickson writing at the Centre for Public Christianity has a thoughtful piece on Mixing Religion and Politics where he lists several ways Christians should and should not vote.  Most helpful for me was the application of Phil. 2:3-11 to how one votes, which places greater concern on the other (what is good for your neighbor and wider social good), rather than on oneself (i.e., economic, health care, and education narrowly understood). He argues that voting this way will make us (Christians) perhaps more ‘liberal’ and more ‘conservative’ than we are typically comfortable with.  It is worth reading to feel all of the nuance.  In closing, he comments on I Tim. 2:1-3, where the Apostle Paul urges Christians to pray for their leaders.  Dickson writes,

The connection between these sentences is subtle and fascinating. God’s people are urged to pray for those in power (vv.1-2a) with the result that ‘we’ (God’s people) can get on with the business of living peaceful and godly lives (v.2b). Moreover, this outcome somehow works to the pleasure of the God who wants all people to be saved (vv.3-4). In other words, good government enables the church to live its life of good works and God’s missionary desires to be fulfilled. This comes about not through the vote—as important as that is—but through prayer. Christian activism is expressed most pertinently on the knees. There is nothing here about praying for a ‘Christian society’—whatever that is—only that prayers should be offered for the (secular) leadership of a nation so that God’s people can get on with their core business of living lives of peace and goodness and seeking to promote the news of ‘God as Saviour.’ It is a mistake, in other words, for Christians to pin their hopes for a nation on a political process. The ‘Christian vote’ will always remain a secondary tool in the church’s repertoire of involvement for the good of the world.

Seeing prayer as the primary way in which we can be actively involved in the world is so counter to the way many of this think, myself included.  For those of us who are busy, active, educated, employed, and generally successful, prayer seems lazy, counter-productive, and weak.  But it is the way of God’s kingdom, for “Christ moves forward by spiritual rather than human power.”  So while we may be educationally and productively powerful, sadly, we are spiritually anemic.

Justification and Ethics

In Michael Bird’s recent post on Rom. 2, he concludes that the righteousness through faith should produce “an ethic of mutual tolerance”, to borrow from Robert Jewett. The logic is: If God’s verdict on Jew and Gentile is the same by means of the righteousness one receives through faith, then how Jew and Gentile relate to each other must be normed by the justifying event of faith in Christ.

In other words, no longer can a Jew say they are more faithful to God by virtue of their Torah observance.  But just as well, a Gentile cannot assume he is more faithful to the purity of the gospel, simply because he does not observe all that Jewish stuff. In the end, both need to recognize the gospels verdict of righteous, which is freely received through faith in Christ (contra works of the law).

Together then, Jew and Gentile must learn the “ethic of mutual tolerance.” If faith in Christ is what grants salvation vertically, then it must also be the ground for our ethics horizontally.  And here is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak; implications of the gospel (ethics) cannot replace the grounds of the gospel (rule of faith).  But at the same time, we could delineate, that the gospel’s normative ethic is unity.  Or to say it more clearly, union with Christ and his people is “the” ethical issue the church continually needs to fight for.

So might it be the case, that unity in the gospel is of greater importance than the plethora of implications that one can draw from the gospel.  If so, then this challenges many evangelical idiosyncratic movements that pride themselves on having discovered the “real” essence of being Christian.  The “real” however, is not the essence, but actually just an implication. But when the “real” is seen as the “essence”, Christian unity becomes Christian homogeny, which is many times achieved through power and spiritual coercion (guilt tripping, shaming, etc.).  But apostolic Christianity embraces diversity, not homogeny.  This can relate to both cultural gifts (common grace) or even spiritual gifts (covenantal grace).

We see Paul dealing with these types of things when he warns the Ephesians in ch. 4 to bear with one another, to be patient, to be humble and eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.  These imperatives come just prior to Paul speaking about the gifts Christ gives to his church.  These gifts are meant to unite the church, not divide the church.  Most likely, Paul had in mind Christians who were eager to use their gifts and were “sold out” for the Lord, but who were also devastatingly toxic for Christian unity.  Paul’s point to these Christians is that unity is the true sign of maturity (Eph. 4:13-16), not simply ones giftedness or eagerness to use ones gift.

Paul would rather see a diverse community bound by the Spirit, than a homogenous community all playing the same tune. In his understanding, the greatest mystery ever revealed, is that Gentiles are now fellow heirs with Jews. And it is  this new humanity bound by the Spirit that is the greatest evidence of the gospel’s power.

Yet in saying all of this, we should not assume that implications are not important.  Rather, it just means that they actually might look different for different folks (e.g., culture, race, upbringing, socio-economic position, location on the sanctification spectrum, etc.) and this is where discernment and the ethic of mutual tolerance has its place.  But in the end, the gospel must be the norma normans non normata.

Dialogue and Interpretation

Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, p. 182:

“Everything in the world of biblical narrative ultimately gravitates towards dialogue.  Quantitatively, a remarkably large part of the narrative burden is carried by dialogue, the transactions between characters typically unfolding through the words they exchange, with only the most minimal intervention of the narrator.”

In other words, good interpretation requires careful overhearing.